Space Exploration Technologies Corp., doing business as SpaceX, is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars. SpaceX has since developed the Falcon launch vehicle family and the Dragon spacecraft family, which both currently deliver payloads into Earth orbit.
SpaceX's achievements include the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008); the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010); the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon in 2012); the first propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015); and the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017). As of March 2017, SpaceX has since flown ten missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under a cargo resupply contract. NASA also awarded SpaceX a further development contract in 2011 to develop and demonstrate a human-rated Dragon, which would be used to transport astronauts to the ISS and return them safely to Earth.
SpaceX announced in 2011 that they were beginning a privately funded reusable launch system technology development program. In December 2015, a first stage was flown back to a landing pad near the launch site, where it successfully accomplished a propulsive vertical landing. This was the first such achievement by a rocket for orbital spaceflight. In April 2016, with the launch of CRS-8, SpaceX successfully vertically landed a first stage on an ocean drone-ship landing platform. In May 2016, in another first, SpaceX again landed a first stage, but during a significantly more energetic geostationary transfer orbit mission. In March 2017, SpaceX became the first to successfully re-launch and land the first stage of an orbital rocket.
In September 2016, CEO Elon Musk unveiled the mission architecture of the Interplanetary Transport System program, an ambitious privately funded initiative to develop spaceflight technology for use in manned interplanetary spaceflight, and which, if demand emerges, could lead to sustainable human settlements on Mars over the long term. This is the main purpose this System was designed for. In 2017, Elon Musk announced that the company had been contracted by two private individuals to send them in a Dragon spacecraft on a free return trajectory around the Moon. Provisionally launching in 2018, this could become the first instance of lunar tourism.
In 2001, Elon Musk conceptualized Mars Oasis, a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse and grow plants on Mars, "so this would be the furthest that life’s ever traveled" in an attempt to regain public interest in space exploration and increase the budget of NASA. Musk tried to buy cheap rockets from Russia but returned empty-handed after failing to find rockets for an affordable price.
On the flight home, Musk realized that he could start a company that could build the affordable rockets he needed. According to early Tesla and SpaceX investor Steve Jurvetson, Musk calculated that the raw materials for building a rocket actually were only 3 percent of the sales price of a rocket at the time. By applying vertical integration, producing around 85% of launch hardware in-house, and the modular approach from software engineering, SpaceX could cut launch price by a factor of ten and still enjoy a 70 percent gross margin. SpaceX started with the smallest useful orbital rocket, instead of building a more complex and riskier launch vehicle, which could have failed and bankrupted the company.
In early 2002, Musk was seeking staff for his new space company, soon to be named SpaceX. Musk approached rocket engineer Tom Mueller (now SpaceX's CTO of Propulsion) and Mueller agreed to work for Musk, and thus SpaceX was born. SpaceX was first headquartered in a warehouse in El Segundo, California. The company has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2002, growing from 160 employees in November 2005 to 1,100 in 2010, 3,800 employees and contractors by October 2013, and near 5,000 by late 2015. As of April 2017, the company has nearly 6,000 employees.In 2016 Musk gave a speech at the International Astronautical Congress, where he stated that SpaceX can only hire Americans due to employees working on "advanced weapon technology".
At year-end 2012, SpaceX had over 40 launches on its manifest representing about $4 billion in contract revenue, with many of those contracts already making progress payments to SpaceX. The contracts included both commercial and government (NASA/DOD) customers. As of December 2013, SpaceX had a total of 50 future launches under contract; two-thirds of them were for commercial customers. In late 2013, space industry media began to comment on the phenomenon that SpaceX prices are undercutting the major competitors in the commercial comsat launch market—the Ariane 5 and Proton-M—at which time SpaceX had at least 10 further geostationary orbit flights on its books.
In September 2017, Elon Musk released first prototype images of their space suits to be used in future missions. The suit is in testing phase and it is designed to cope with 2 ATM pressure in vacuum.
Musk has stated that one of his goals is to improve the cost and reliability of access to space, ultimately by a factor of ten. The company plans in 2004 called for "development of a heavy lift product and even a super-heavy, if there is customer demand" with each size increase resulting in a significant decrease in cost per pound to orbit. CEO Elon Musk said: "I believe $500 per pound ($1,100/kg) or less is very achievable."
A major goal of SpaceX has been to develop a rapidly reusable launch system. As of March 2013, the publicly announced aspects of this technology development effort include an active test campaign of the low-altitude, low-speed Grasshopper vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) technology demonstrator rocket, and a high-altitude, high-speed Falcon 9 post-mission booster return test campaign where—beginning in mid-2013, with the sixth overall flight of Falcon 9—every first stage will be instrumented and equipped as a controlled descent test vehicle to accomplish propulsive-return over-water tests. SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said at the Singapore Satellite Industry Forum in summer 2013 "If we get this [reusable technology] right, and we’re trying very hard to get this right, we’re looking at launches to be in the US$5 to 7 million range, which would really change things dramatically."
Musk stated in a 2011 interview that he hopes to send humans to Mars' surface within 10–20 years. In 2010, Musk's calculations convinced him that the colonization of Mars was possible. In June 2013, Musk used the descriptor "Mars Colonial Transporter" (only later changed to "Interplanetary Transport System"; see below) to refer to the privately funded development project to design and build a spaceflight system of rocket engines, launch vehicles and space capsules to transport humans to Mars and return to Earth. In March 2014, COO Gwynne Shotwell said that once the Falcon Heavy and Dragon 2 crew version are flying, the focus for the company engineering team will be on developing the technology to support the transport infrastructure necessary for Mars missions.
Landmark achievements of SpaceX include:
- The first privately funded liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 Flight 4 — September 28, 2008)
- The first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Falcon 9 Flight 2 — December 9, 2010)
- The first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Falcon 9 Flight 3 — May 25, 2012)
- The first private company to send a satellite into geosynchronous orbit (Falcon 9 Flight 7 — December 3, 2013)
- The first landing of an orbital rocket's first stage on land (Falcon 9 Flight 20 — December 22, 2015)
- The first landing of an orbital rocket's first stage on an ocean platform (Falcon 9 Flight 23 — April 8, 2016)
- The first relaunch and landing of a used orbital rocket (Falcon 9 Flight 32 — March 30, 2017)
- The first controlled flyback and recovery of a payload fairing (Falcon 9 Flight 32 — March 30, 2017)
- The first reflight of a commercial cargo spacecraft. (Falcon 9 Flight 35 — June 3, 2017)
In December 2015, SpaceX launched an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station into Low Earth orbit, on a mission designated Flight 20. After completing its primary burn, the first stage of the multistage rocket detached from the second stage as usual. The first stage then fired three of its engines to send it back to Cape Canaveral, where it achieved the world's first successful landing of a rocket that was used for an orbital launch.
The upgraded Falcon 9 rocket is currently the only space launch system that uses densified propellants. SpaceX successfully re-introduced this technology with the aforementioned Flight 20. Before, propellant densification had been used only on some ICBMs, which are no longer in service, and the (unsuccessful) Soviet lunar rocket N1.
In March 2013, a Dragon spacecraft in orbit developed issues with its thrusters. Due to blocked fuel valves, the craft was unable to properly control itself. SpaceX engineers were able to remotely clear the blockages. Because of this issue, the craft arrived at and docked with the International Space Station one day later than expected.
In June 2015, CRS-7 launched a Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 to resupply the International Space Station. All telemetry readings were nominal until 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the flight, when a loss of helium pressure was detected and a cloud of vapor appeared outside the second stage. A few seconds after this, the second stage exploded. The first stage continued to fly for a few seconds before disintegrating due to aerodynamic forces. The capsule was thrown off and survived the explosion, transmitting data until it was destroyed on impact. Later it was revealed that the capsule could have landed intact if it had software to deploy its parachutes in case of a launch mishap. The problem was discovered to be a failed 2-foot-long steel strut purchased from a supplier to hold a helium pressure vessel that broke free due to the force of acceleration. This caused a breach and allowed high-pressure helium to escape into the low-pressure propellant tank, causing the failure.The Dragon software issue was also fixed in addition to an analysis of the entire program in order to ensure proper abort mechanisms are in place for future rockets and their payload.
In September 2016, a Falcon 9 exploded during a propellant fill operation for a standard pre-launch static fire test. The payload, the Spacecom Amos-6 communications satellite valued at $200 million, was destroyed. Musk described the event as the "most difficult and complex failure" ever in SpaceX's history; SpaceX reviewed nearly 3,000 channels of telemetry and video data covering a period of 35–55 milliseconds for the postmortem. Musk reported the explosion was caused by the liquid oxygen that is used as propellant turning so cold that it solidified and it ignited with carbon composite helium vessels. The rocket explosion sent the company into a four-month launch hiatus while it worked out what went wrong, and SpaceX finally returned to flight in January 2017.
Ownership, funding and valuation
In August 2008, SpaceX accepted a $20 million investment from Founders Fund. In early 2012, approximately two-thirds of the company were owned by its founder and his 70 million shares were then estimated to be worth $875 million on private markets, which roughly valued SpaceX at $1.3 billion as of February 2012. After the COTS 2+ flight in May 2012, the company private equity valuation nearly doubled to $2.4 billion. In January 2015, SpaceX raised $1 billion in funding from Google and Fidelity, in exchange for 8.333% of the company, establishing the company valuation at approximately $12 billion. Google and Fidelity joined the then current investorship group of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Founders Fund, Valor Equity Partners and Capricorn.
As of May 2012, SpaceX had operated on total funding of approximately $1 billion in its first ten years of operation. Of this, private equity provided about $200M, with Musk investing approximately $100M and other investors having put in about $100M (Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, …). The remainder has come from progress payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts. As of April 2012, NASA had put in about $400–500M of this amount, with most of that as progress payments on launch contracts. By May 2012, SpaceX had contracts for 40 launch missions, and each of those contracts provide down payments at contract signing, plus many are paying progress payments as launch vehicle components are built in advance of mission launch, driven in part by US accounting rules for recognizing long-term revenue.
Congressional testimony by SpaceX in 2017 suggested that the unusual NASA process of "setting only a high-level requirement for cargo transport to the space station [while] leaving the details to industry" had allowed SpaceX to design and develop the Falcon 9 rocket on its own at substantially lower cost. "According to NASA's own independently verified numbers, SpaceX’s development costs of both the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets were estimated at approximately US$390 million in total. "In 2011, NASA estimated that it would have cost the agency about US$4 billion to develop a rocket like the Falcon 9 booster based upon NASA's traditional contracting processes" and that "a more 'commercial development' approach might have allowed the agency to pay only US$1.7 billion.
In 2012, an initial public offering (IPO) was perceived as possible by the end of 2013, but then Musk stated in June 2013 that he planned to hold off any potential IPO until after the "Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly," and this was reiterated in 2015 indicating that it would be many years before SpaceX would become a publicly traded company, where Musk stated that "I just don’t want [SpaceX] to be controlled by some private equity firm that would milk it for near-term revenue."
In July 2017, the Company raised US$350m at a valuation of US$21 billion.
Spacecraft and flight hardware
SpaceX currently manufactures two broad classes of rocket engine in-house: the kerosene fueled Merlin engines and the hypergolic fueled Draco/SuperDraco vernier thrusters. The Merlin powers their two main space launch vehicles: the large Falcon 9, which flew successfully into orbit on its maiden launch in June 2010 and the super-heavy class Falcon Heavy, which is scheduled to make its first flight in 2017. SpaceX also manufactures the Dragon, a pressurized orbital spacecraft that is launched on top of a Falcon 9 booster to carry cargo to low Earth orbit, and the follow-on Dragon 2 spacecraft, currently in the process of being human-rated through a variety of design reviews and flight tests that began in 2014.
Since the founding of SpaceX in 2002, the company has developed three families of rocket engines — Merlin and Kestrel for launch vehicle propulsion, and the Draco control thrusters. SpaceX is currently developing two further rocket engines: SuperDraco and Raptor.
Merlin is a family of rocket engines developed by SpaceX for use on its Falcon rocket family of launch vehicles. Merlin engines use LOX and RP-1 as propellants in a gas-generator power cycle. The Merlin engine was originally designed for sea recovery and reuse. The injector at the heart of Merlin is of the pintle type that was first used in the Apollo Program for the lunar module landing engine. Propellants are fed via a single shaft, dual impeller turbo-pump.
Kestrel is a LOX/RP-1 pressure-fed rocket engine, and was used as the Falcon 1 rocket's second stage main engine. It is built around the same pintle architecture as SpaceX's Merlin engine but does not have a turbo-pump, and is fed only by tank pressure. Its nozzle is ablatively cooled in the chamber and throat, is also radiatively cooled, and is fabricated from a high strength niobium alloy.
Draco are hypergolic liquid-propellant rocket engines that utilize monomethyl hydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. Each Draco thruster generates 400 newtons (90 lbf) of thrust. They are used as reaction control system (RCS) thrusters on the Dragon spacecraft. SuperDraco engines are a much more powerful version of the Draco thrusters, which will be initially used as landing and launch escape system engines on the version 2 Dragon spacecraft, Dragon 2.
Falcon launch vehicles
Falcon 1 was a small rocket capable of placing several hundred kilograms into low earth orbit. It functioned as an early test-bed for developing concepts and components for the larger Falcon 9. Falcon 1 attempted five flights between 2006 and 2009. On September 28, 2008, on its fourth attempt, the Falcon 1 successfully reached orbit, becoming the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket to do so.
Falcon 9 is an EELV-class medium-lift vehicle capable of delivering up to 22,800 kilograms (50,265 lb) to orbit, and is intended to compete with the Delta IV and the Atlas V rockets, as well as other launch providers around the world. It has nine Merlin engines in its first stage. The Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket successfully reached orbit on its first attempt on June 4, 2010. Its third flight, COTS Demo Flight 2, launched on May 22, 2012, and was the first commercial spacecraft to reach and dock with the International Space Station. The vehicle was upgraded to Falcon 9 v1.1 in 2013 and again in 2015 to the current Falcon 9 Full Thrust version. As of March 2017, Falcon 9 vehicles have flown 30 successful missions with two failures, one after launch and the other during fueling for a routine pre-launch static fire.
In 2011, SpaceX began development of the Falcon Heavy, a heavy-lift rocket configured using a cluster of three Falcon 9 first stage cores with a total 27 Merlin 1D engines and propellant crossfeed. The first stage would be capable of lifting 63,957 kilograms (141,100 lb) to LEO with the 27 Merlin 1D engines producing 22,819kN of thrust at sea level, and 24,681 kN in space. When SpaceX finishes development and the rocket is launched, the Falcon Heavy will be the world's most powerful rocket in operation. SpaceX is aiming for the first demonstration flight of the Falcon Heavy in December 2017.
In 2005, SpaceX announced plans to pursue a human-rated commercial space program through the end of the decade. The Dragon is a conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule which is capable of carrying cargo or up to seven astronauts into orbit and beyond.
In 2006, NASA announced that the company was one of two selected to provide crew and cargo resupply demonstration contracts to the ISS under the COTS program. SpaceX demonstrated cargo resupply and eventually crew transportation services using the Dragon. The first flight of a Dragon structural test article took place in June 2010, from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during the maiden flight of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle; the mock-up Dragon lacked avionics, heat shield, and other key elements normally required of a fully operational spacecraft but contained all the necessary characteristics to validate the flight performance of the launch vehicle. An operational Dragon spacecraft was launched in December 2010 aboard COTS Demo Flight 1, the Falcon 9's second flight, and safely returned to Earth after two orbits, completing all its mission objectives. In 2012, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, and has since been conducting regular resupply services to the ISS.
In 2009 and 2010, Musk suggested on several occasions that plans for a human-rated variant of Dragon were proceeding and had a 2- to 3-year time line to completion. In April 2011, NASA issued a $75 million contract, as part of its second-round commercial crew development (CCDev) program, for SpaceX to develop an integrated launch escape system for Dragon in preparation for human-rating it as a crew transport vehicle to the ISS. This Space Act Agreement runs from April 2011 until May 2012, when the next round of contracts are to be awarded. NASA approved the technical plans for the system in October 2011, and SpaceX began building prototype hardware.
SpaceX plans to launch its Dragon 2 spacecraft on an unmanned test flight to the ISS in November 2017, and later in 2018, a crewed Dragon will send US astronauts to the ISS for the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle. In February 2017 SpaceX announced that two would-be space tourists had put down "significant deposits" for a mission which would see the two private astronauts fly on board a Dragon capsule to the moon and back again. At the press conference announcing the mission Elon Musk said that the cost of the mission would be "comparable" to that of sending an astronaut to the International Space Station; about $70 million US dollars per astronaut in 2017. The mission is slated for late 2018.
In addition to SpaceX's privately funded plans for an eventual Mars mission, NASA Ames Research Center had developed a concept called Red Dragon: a low-cost Mars mission that would use Falcon Heavy as the launch vehicle and trans-Martian injection vehicle, and the Dragon capsule to enter the Martian atmosphere. The concept was originally envisioned for launch in 2018 as a NASA Discovery mission, then alternatively for 2022, but as of September 2015 it has not been yet formally submitted for funding within NASA. The objectives of the mission would be return the samples from Mars to Earth at a fraction of the cost of the NASA own return-sample mission now projected at 6 billion dollars. In April 2016, SpaceX announced its plan to launch a modified Dragon lander to Mars by 2018. This project is part of a public-private partnership contract between NASA and SpaceX. In early 2017, SpaceX has pushed the mission to the 2020 launch window to have more time to dedicate to other projects such as the Falcon Heavy and the Dragon 2 (Crew Dragon) spacecraft. Later in 2017 cancellation of Red Dragon was announced; SpaceX will concentrate on landing a much larger ship on Mars .
In September 2017 it has been reported that SpaceX has completed testing on the first stage cores for its Falcon Heavy rocket.
Research and development
SpaceX is actively pursuing several different research and development programs. Most notable are the programs intended to develop reusable launch vehicles, an interplanetary transport system, and a global telecommunications network.
SpaceX has on occasion developed new engineering development technologies to enable it to pursue its various goals. For example, at the 2015 GPU Technology Conference, SpaceX revealed their own computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software to improve the simulation capability of evaluating rocket engine combustion design.
Reusable launch system
SpaceX's reusable launcher program was publicly announced in 2011 and the design phase was completed in February 2012. The system returns the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket to its launchpad using only its own propulsion systems.
SpaceX's active test program began in late 2012 with testing low-altitude, low-speed aspects of the landing technology. Grasshopper and the Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicles (F9R Dev) were experimental technology-demonstrator reusable rockets that performed vertical takeoffs and landings. DragonFly is a test vehicle to develop propulsive and propulsive-assist landing technologies in a series of low-altitude flight tests planned to be conducted in 2015–2016.
High-velocity, high-altitude aspects of the booster atmospheric return technology began testing in late 2013 and have continued through 2016. SpaceX has been improving the autonomous landing and recovery of the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, with steadily increasing success. As a result of Elon Musk's goal of crafting more cost-effective launch vehicles, SpaceX conceived a method to reuse the first stage of their primary rocket, the Falcon 9, by attempting propulsive vertical landings on solid surfaces. Once the company determined that soft landings were feasible by touching down over the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, they began landing attempts on a solid platform. SpaceX leased and modified several barges to sit out at sea as a target for the returning first stage, converting them to autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS). SpaceX first achieved a successful landing and recovery of a first stage in December 2015, and in April 2016, the first stage booster first successfully landed on the ASDS Of Course I Still Love You.
SpaceX continues to carry out first stage landings on every orbital launch that fuel margins allow. By October 2016, following the successful landings, SpaceX indicated they were offering their customers a ten percent price discount if they choose to fly their payload on a reused Falcon 9 first stage. On March 30, 2017, SpaceX launched a "flight-proven" Falcon 9 for the SES-10 mission. This was the first time a re-launch of a payload-carrying orbital rocket went back to space. The first stage was recovered and landed on the ASDS Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean, also making it the first landing of a reused orbital class rocket. Elon Musk called the achievement an "incredible milestone in the history of space."
Interplanetary Transport System
SpaceX is developing a super-heavy lift launch vehicle—the ITS launch vehicle—a fully reusable booster stage and integrated second-stage/spacecraft—Interplanetary Spaceship and ITS tanker—to support flights to interplanetary space. Development of the Interplanetary Transport System and its super-heavy launch vehicle will be the major focus of SpaceX once Falcon Heavy and DragonCrew are flying regularly. The ITS architecture was announced by Elon Musk during the 67th International Astronautical Congress in September, 2016. The next iteration, with a scaled down and more affordable spacecraft, is expected to be out at the next IAC in September, 2017.
SpaceX has signaled on multiple occasions that it is interested in developing much larger engines than it has done to date. A conceptual plan for the Raptor project was first unveiled in a June 2009 AIAA presentation. In November 2012, Musk announced a new direction for propulsion side of the company: developing LOX/methane rocket engines for launch vehicle main and upper stages. The Raptor LOX/methane engine will use the more efficient staged combustion cycle, a departure from the open cycle gas generator cycle system and LOX/RP-1 propellants that the current Merlin 1 engine series uses." The rocket would be more powerful than previously released publicly, with over 1,000,000 lbf (4,400 kN) of thrust. The Raptor engine will likely be the first in a family of methane-based engines SpaceX intends to build. In August 2016, a Raptor engine was shipped to the McGregor testing facility in Texas, where it is undergoing development testing.
Musk's long term vision for the company is the development of technology and resources suitable for human colonization on Mars. He has expressed his interest in someday traveling to the planet, stating "I'd like to die on Mars, just not on impact." A rocket every two years or so could provide a base for the people arriving in 2025 after a launch in 2024. According to Steve Jurvetson, Musk believes that by 2035 at the latest, there will be thousands of rockets flying a million people to Mars, in order to enable a self-sustaining human colony.
In September 2017, Elon Musk provided a revised architecture, designated, as BFR, with a smaller (9 m) diameter booster and spacecraft.
In January 2015, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the development of a new satellite constellation to provide global broadband internet service. In June 2015 the company asked the federal government for permission to begin testing for a project that aims to build a constellation of 4,000 satellites capable of beaming the Internet to the entire globe, including remote regions which currently do not have internet access. The internet service will use a constellation of 4,000 cross-linked communications satellites in 1,100 km orbits. Owned and operated by SpaceX, the goal of the business is to increase profitability and cashflow, to allow SpaceX to build its Mars colony. Development began in 2015, initial prototype test-flight satellites are expected to be flown in 2017, and initial operation of the constellation could begin as early as 2020. As of March 2017, SpaceX filed with the US regulatory authorities plans to field a constellation of an additional 7,518 "V-band satellites in non-geosynchronous orbits to provide communications services" in an electromagnetic spectrum that had not previously been "heavily employed for commercial communications services". Called the "V-band low-Earth-orbit (VLEO) constellation", it would consist of "7,518 satellites to follow the [earlier] proposed 4,425 satellites that would function in Ka- and Ku-band".
In June 2015, SpaceX announced that they would sponsor a Hyperloop competition, and would build a 1-mile-long (1.6 km) subscale test track near SpaceX's headquarters for the competitive events, which could be held as early as June 2016. The plan was later delayed to January 2017, as there were many requests from teams for more time designing and building their pods.
SpaceX is headquartered in California, which also serves as their primary manufacturing plant. They own a test site in Texas, and operate three current launch sites, with another under development. SpaceX also run regional offices in Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. and a satellite development facility in Seattle.
Headquarters and manufacturing plant
SpaceX Headquarters is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, California. The large three-story facility, originally built by Northrop Corporation to build Boeing 747 fuselages, houses SpaceX's office space, mission control, and vehicle factory. The area has one of the largest concentrations of aerospace headquarters, facilities, and/or subsidiaries in the U.S., including Boeing/McDonnell Douglas main satellite building campuses, Raytheon, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and AECOM, etc., with a large pool of aerospace engineers and recent college engineering graduates.
SpaceX utilizes a high degree of vertical integration in the production of its rockets and rocket engines. SpaceX builds its rocket engines, rocket stages, spacecraft, principal avionics and all software in-house in their Hawthorne facility, which is unusual for the aerospace industry. Nevertheless, SpaceX still has over 3,000 suppliers with some 1,100 of those delivering to SpaceX nearly weekly.
Development and test facility
SpaceX operates their Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas. All SpaceX rocket engines are tested on rocket test stands, and low-altitude VTVL flight testing of the Falcon 9 Grasshopper v1.0 and F9R Dev1 test vehicles were carried out at McGregor.
The company purchased the McGregor facilities from Beal Aerospace, where it refitted the largest test stand for Falcon 9 engine testing. SpaceX has made a number of improvements to the facility since purchase, and has also extended the acreage by purchasing several pieces of adjacent farmland. In 2011, the company announced plans to upgrade the facility for launch testing a VTVL rocket, and then constructed a half-acre concrete launch facility in 2012 to support the Grasshopper test flight program. As of October 2012, the McGregor facility has seven test stands that are operated "18 hours a day, six days a week" and is building more test stands because production is ramping up and the company has a large manifest in the next several years.
In addition to routine testing, Dragon capsules (following recovery after an orbital mission), are shipped to McGregor for de-fueling, cleanup, and refurbishment for reuse in future missions.
SpaceX currently operates three orbital launch sites, at Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and Kennedy Space Center, and have announced plans for a fourth in Brownsville, Texas. SpaceX has indicated that they see a niche for each of the four orbital facilities and that they have sufficient launch business to fill each pad. Before it was retired, all Falcon 1 launches took place at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Omelek Island.
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) is used for Falcon 9 launches to low Earth and geostationary orbits. SLC-40 is not capable of supporting Falcon Heavy launches, or polar launches. As part of SpaceX's booster reusability program, the former Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral, now renamed Landing Zone 1, has been designated for use for Falcon 9 first-stage booster landings.
Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) is used for payloads to polar orbits. The Vandenberg site can launch both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, but cannot launch to low inclination orbits. Post-launch landings will take place at the neighboring SLC-4W.
Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (LC39A) has been under development by SpaceX since December 2013, when NASA announced that they had selected SpaceX as the new commercial tenant. SpaceX plans to launch their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy from the pad and build a new hangar near it. Elon Musk has stated that he wants to shift most of SpaceX's NASA launches to LC39A, including Commercial Cargo and Crew missions to the ISS.
In August 2014, SpaceX announced they would be building a commercial-only launch facility at Brownsville, Texas. The Federal Aviation Administration released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Texas facility in April 2013, and "found that 'no impacts would occur' that would force the Federal Aviation Administration to deny SpaceX a permit for rocket operations," and issued the permit in July 2014. SpaceX started construction on the new launch facility in 2014 with production ramping up in the latter half of 2015, with the first launches from the facility no earlier than late 2018. Real estate packages at the location have been named by SpaceX with names based on the theme "Mars Crossing".
Satellite prototyping facility
In January 2015, SpaceX announced it would be entering the satellite production business and global satellite internet business. The satellite factory would be located in Seattle, Washington. The office will initially have approximately 60 engineers, with the potential to grow to 1,000 over several years. In July 2016, SpaceX acquired an additional 740 square meters (8,000 sq ft) creative space in Irvine, California (Orange County) to focus on satellite communications.
SpaceX has been contracted by NASA to initially develop the technology and subsequently carry out the task of resupplying the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX is also certified for US military launches of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class (EELV) payloads. In addition to this, SpaceX has (as of January 2013) a purely commercial launch manifest of "23 missions scheduled over the next 4 years, exclusive of US government flights," of a total of 40 flights scheduled through 2017." In September 2015, SpaceX stated that they had over 60 missions on manifest representing over $7B under contract.
In 2006, NASA announced that SpaceX had won a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract to demonstrate cargo delivery to the ISS, with a possible option for crew transport. This contract, designed by NASA to provide "seed money" for developing new boosters, paid SpaceX $278 million to develop the Falcon 9. In December 2010, the launch of the COTS Demo Flight 1 mission, SpaceX became the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft. Dragon was successfully deployed into orbit, circled the Earth twice, and then made a controlled re-entry burn for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. With Dragon's safe recovery, SpaceX became the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft; prior to this mission, only government agencies had been able to recover orbital spacecraft. COTS Demo Flight 2 launched in May 2012, in which Dragon successfully berthed with the ISS, marking the first time that a private spacecraft had accomplished this feat.
Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) are a series of contracts awarded by NASA from 2008–2016 for delivery of cargo and supplies to the ISS on commercially operated spacecraft. The first CRS contracts were signed in 2008 and awarded $1.6 billion to SpaceX for 12 cargo transport missions, covering deliveries to 2016. SpaceX CRS-1, the first of the 12 planned resupply missions, launched in October 2012, achieved orbit, berthed and remained on station for 20 days, before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. CRS missions have flown approximately twice a year to the ISS since then. In 2015, NASA extended the Phase 1 contracts by ordering an additional three resupply flights from SpaceX. After further extensions late in 2015, SpaceX is currently scheduled to fly a total of 20 missions. A second phase of contracts (known as CRS2) were solicited and proposed in 2014. They were awarded in January 2016, for cargo transport flights beginning in 2019 and expected to last through 2024.
The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program intends to develop commercially operated spacecraft that are capable of delivering astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX did not win a Space Act Agreement in the first round (CCDev 1), but during the second round (CCDev 2), NASA awarded SpaceX with a contract worth $75 million to further develop their launch escape system, test a crew accommodations mock-up, and to further progress their Falcon/Dragon crew transportation design. The CCDev program later became Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap), and in August 2012, NASA announced that SpaceX had been awarded $440 million to continue development and testing of its Dragon 2 spacecraft.
In September 2014, NASA chose SpaceX and Boeing as the two companies that will be funded to develop systems to transport U.S. crews to and from the ISS. SpaceX won $2.6 billion to complete and certify Dragon 2 by 2017. The contracts include at least one crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut aboard. Once Crew Dragon achieves NASA certification, the contract requires SpaceX to conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station.
2015 rocket explosion and NASA's public response
In June 2015, in a contract with NASA, SpaceX launched a rocket to resupply the international space station. However, the rocket blew up. The failure cost taxpayers $110 million for the rocket, and the company received 80% of its expected payment after the failure of the mission.
After the explosion, NASA promised the public that there would be a summary of the investigation released. However, in mid August 2017, NASA announced that it no longer needed to release the investigation to the public because it "is not required to complete a formal final report public summary since it was an FAA licensed flight." NASA’s lack of the release of information to the public was different than its public information response to a similar rocket explosion. In October 2014, Orbital Sciences’ rocket blew up (at a cost of $51 million from the taxpayers). That flight also was an FAA licensed flight and was conducted under the same commercial resupply service program of which SpaceX is a part; both scenarios also involved "aging rockets." However, NASA put out an executive summary to the public for the Orbital incident.
Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, noticed the discrepancy and in response wrote a letter to NASA stating his belief that the "discrepancy … raises questions about not only the equity and fairness of NASA’s process for initiating independent accident investigations, but also the fidelity of the investigations themselves." Smith proposed that SpaceX was receiving preferential treatment.
In 2005, SpaceX announced that it had been awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for Responsive Small Spacelift (RSS) launch services by the United States Air Force, which could allow the Air Force to purchase up to $100 million worth of launches from the company. In April 2008, NASA announced that it had awarded an IDIQ Launch Services contract to SpaceX for up to $1 billion, depending on the number of missions awarded. The contract covers launch services ordered by June 2010, for launches through December 2012. Musk stated in the same 2008 announcement that SpaceX has sold 14 contracts for flights on the various Falcon vehicles. In December 2012, SpaceX announced its first two launch contracts with the United States Department of Defense. The United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded SpaceX two EELV-class missions: Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and Space Test Program 2 (STP-2). DSCOVR was launched on a Falcon 9 launch vehicle in 2015, while STP-2 will be launched on a Falcon Heavy in 2017.
In May 2015, the United States Air Force announced that the Falcon 9 v1.1 was certified for launching "national security space missions," which allows SpaceX to contract launch services to the Air Force for any payloads classified under national security. In April 2016, the U.S. Air Force awarded the first such national security launch, an $82.7 million contract to SpaceX to launch a GPS satellite in May 2018; this estimated cost was approximately 40% less than the estimated cost for similar previous missions. In April 2016, the Pentagon announced that SpaceX has been awarded an $82.7 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to launch a next-generation GPS satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket in May 2018. Prior to this, United Launch Alliance was the only provider certified to launch national security payloads.
SpaceX announced in March 2010, that it had been contracted to launch SES-8, a telecommunications satellite for SES S.A.; it was successfully launched in December 2013. SES-8 was SpaceX's first launch of a geostationary comsat, signalling its entrance into the lucrative commercial launch market. In June 2010, SpaceX was awarded the largest-ever commercial launch contract, worth $492 million, to launch Iridium satellites using Falcon 9 rockets. As of December 2013, SpaceX had a total of 50 future launches under contract; two-thirds of them for commercial customers.
Launch market competition and pricing pressure
SpaceX's low launch prices, especially for communication satellites flying to geostationary (GTO) orbit, have resulted in market pressure on its competitors to lower their own prices. Prior to 2013, the openly competed comsat launch market had been dominated by Arianespace (flying Ariane 5) and International Launch Services (flying Proton). With a published price of US$56.5 million per launch to low Earth orbit, "Falcon 9 rockets [were] already the cheapest in the industry. Reusable Falcon 9s could drop the price by an order of magnitude, sparking more space-based enterprise, which in turn would drop the cost of access to space still further through economies of scale." SpaceX has publicly indicated that if they are successful with developing the reusable technology, launch prices in the US$5 to 7 million range for the reusable Falcon 9 are possible.
In 2014, SpaceX had won nine contracts out of 20 that were openly competed worldwide in 2014 at commercial launch service providers. Space media reported that SpaceX had "already begun to take market share" from Arianespace. Arianespace has requested that European governments provide additional subsidies to face the competition from SpaceX. European satellite operators are pushing the ESA to reduce Ariane 5 and the future Ariane 6 rocket launch prices as a result of competition from SpaceX. According to one Arianespace managing director in 2015, it was clear that "a very significant challenge [was] coming from SpaceX ... Therefore things have to change ... and the whole European industry is being restructured, consolidated, rationalised and streamlined." Jean Botti, Director of innovation for Airbus (which makes the Ariane 5) warned that "those who don't take Elon Musk seriously will have a lot to worry about." In 2014, no commercial launches were booked to fly on the Russian Proton rocket.
Also in 2014, SpaceX capabilities and pricing had also begun to affect the market for launch of US military payloads. For nearly a decade the large US launch provider United Launch Alliance (ULA) had faced no competition for military launches. Anticipating a slump in domestic military and spy launches, ULA stated that it would go out of business unless it won commercial satellite launch orders. To that end, ULA announced a major restructuring of processes and workforce in order to decrease launch costs by half.